TechAmerica: Congress key to effective procurement reform
- By Mark Rockwell
- Jan 09, 2014
Mike Hettinger is TechAmerica's new senior vice president for public sector.
The problems afflicting federal IT acquisition system are not incurable, according to TechAmerica's newly installed Senior Vice President for Public Sector Mike Hettinger, but they could use a strong dose of legislative medicine.
Efforts to reform federal agencies' IT acquisition have been rocked by the HealthCare.gov debacle. In the wake of the troubled project, Hettinger said, TechAmerica is working to foster congressional efforts to change acquisition rules beyond simple knee-jerk reactions to those particular failures.
During a press briefing at TechAmerica's Washington headquarters on Jan. 8, his second day on the job, Hettinger said he is looking to educate lawmakers on the intricacies of federal IT acquisition practices and facilitate a dialogue across industry, legislative and executive branch lines.
HealthCare.gov has been a curse for federal IT acquisition, as well as something of a blessing, according to Hettinger.
"HealthCare.gov has fueled the most intense policy discussions over federal IT acquisition rules and law since the 1990s," he said. But he also noted that problems at the website may be specific to the project, and that larger issues with federal IT procurement aren't susceptible to simple fixes and shouldn't be approached piecemeal.
He also said the intricate nature of federal IT acquisition means only a handful of lawmakers have a full grasp of the process.
The lobbying focus for now is on efforts such as Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act. Longer term, Hettinger said, he aims to help foster a sustained effort that would address deeper systemic problems. Proposals to create a new agency that would manage large IT projects and boost the federal government's ability to hire IT specialists from private industry are steps in the right direction, he said.
But for effective reform, Congress must be involved, Hettinger said. And he knows that legislative territory. A onetime staff director of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability, he also served a stint as chief of staff to former Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis..
TechAmerica named Hettinger vice president of its public sector group in mid-December as the organization began a legal battle with rival Information Technology Industry after several former TechAmerica public sector executives, including former Senior Vice President for Global Public Sector Trey Hodgkins, left abruptly for jobs at ITI. TechAmerica alleges some of those former employees stole valuable membership information.
Hettinger said his new employer assured him the organization was committed to its public sector operations and that he had no reservations about taking on the new job. "The reason I'm here is because this is the premier association. TechAmerica is doing things no one else can." He also noted that TechAmerica is in the process of hiring three additional public policy group personnel in the coming weeks who will work with him.
Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.
Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.
Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.
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